Primal Odyssey, the second album from British/Asian clarinetist and composer Arun Ghosh, is yet more evidence that the Northwest of England is a creative center for some of the most stylish contemporary jazz. Admittedly, Ghosh is now based in London, but the towns of his formative years must take some of the credit for nurturing and encouraging his talents. As a writer and performer, Ghosh is developing a formidable reputation, which this album can only enhance.
The influence of Ghosh's upbringing"conceived in Calcutta, bred in Bolton, matured in Manchester," as he puts itcomes over strongly on Primal Odyssey's ten tunes. There are melodies, harmonies and rhythms from Bengal, the Middle East, Europe and North America: "Indo Jazz" goes some way to describing the sound of this album, but not all the way. Ghosh's writing, playing and choice of band lineup draw on a wide and eclectic mix of influences, where the sounds of Ornette Coleman or Charles Mingus sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Shakespeare's The Tempest and the work of actor Pete Postlethwaite.
The frontline of Ghosh's clarinet, tenor saxophonist Zoe & Idris Rahman and bass clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings works beautifully, a soulful and often haunting sound that can be romantic ("Eros"), joyous ("Damascus"), or even funky ("Lal Qil'ah (The Red Fort").
Ghosh's sinuous and flowing clarinet lines are a central focus, but it's often what goes on down in the basement that gives the music its depth and atmosphere. Hutchings and bassist Liran Donin (from Led Bib) are crucial to the creation of the set's many and varied musical moods. Hutchings' gently flowing rhythm gives the gorgeous "Nocturne (Chandra Dhun)" added strength and dignity, while the combination of bass clarinet and double bass adds an air of mystery to "Caliban's Revenge." When Donin moves to bass guitar, his partnership with drummer Pat Illingworth brings out the rockier edge of Ghosh's compositions.
The rather gynecological imagery of the inner sleeve art serves to emphasize the primal beginnings of Ghosh's odyssey, but the angel-like baby clarinetist on the front cover is more truly representative of this music. Mysterious, spiritual, hopeful and joyous by turns, Primal Odyssey is a superb and life-affirming work.
Caliban's Revenge; Unravel; Yerma; Lal Qil'ah (The Red Fort); Headrush; Intifada; Eros; Damascus; Icarus; Nocturne (Chandra Dhun).